Posted on July 29, 2014

Raleigh’s Top Kid’s Pony Program: Finding the Perfect School Horse

Whispering Hope Stables, Raleigh’s best horse boarding facility offers a Pony Time program for children under the age of 6 years old in which our wonderful children dive into the imagination of becoming a Young Equestrian. In this program parents can expect their children to learn safety around a pony, groom, tack and ride, and how to care for a pony.

Our Pony Time program is a wonderful way for children to embrace the peace and spirit of a pony and for parents to relax whether in the Crown Lounge at Whispering Hope Stables or off-site on their own time. In preparation for the start of our Pony Time program, I wanted to share with you my comical story behind finding the perfect school horse.

We all know the names of the great horses – Man O’ War, Secretariat, Gem Twist, and Big Ben – all of which are iconic race horses and show jumpers. For me, my fondest memory of a great horse is the first school horse that took care of me when I was learning to ride at the age of 6. She wasn’t famous to the outside world, but in my world she was simply – Lotti, a 14.2 hand Appaloosa pony. She slowed down her trot when she felt me lose my balance, she stood perfectly still as I climbed awkwardly up on her back, and she never flinched when I got left behind jumping and took it straight in the chops.

I’ll never forget getting to my first horse show so late that I literally had to sprint to the ring. My Trainer, Amy Wales, threw me up on Lottie and trotted me to the ring. I pleaded with Amy that I didn’t know the course to which she just smiled back and said “that’s okay… Lottie does.” Horses and ponies, like Lotti, aren’t always the prettiest or the most athletic, but in the eyes of children just starting to ride they look like the biggest, most magical animals ever seen.

Now, how do you find these wonderful horses?

First and foremost, trust your gut. Next, look for a horse or pony that is tolerant and truly loves being around children. Most horses are not cut out to be the perfect lesson horse because they need to be tolerant, kind and a little bit numb, but the truly great ones are worth their weight in gold.

Our journey at Whispering Hope Stables began with trying to find the tolerant, kind and a little bit numb pony for our Pony Time program. I was going to teach toddlers, yes toddlers, how to ride and the basics of horse care. All I needed was just one small pony.

How hard could that be?

How was I, a professional trainer, able to forget how hard it actually is to find a really good small pony?

Keep in mind this pony has to be not only small, but completely safe as I was planning on having a bunch of little kids brushing it, riding it and especially loving on the pony. Oh yes, did I mention little kids can and will scream, cry and squeal? And in most cases, in that order.

So my journey started, I first reached out to my horse friends to let them know what I was looking for and my budgetary limits. They all said good luck with that and I never received a call back and that maybe should have been my first clue. Then I hit the web and after seeing what was out there, I became pretty discouraged until I found the miracle little pony…or what I thought was a miracle.

He was the most adorable little pony you ever saw. They had all these great pictures of him – one picture had him in a bath covered in bubbles and another one with a little girl on him with a big smile. There he was, I found him! We even renamed him before he got to the farm, “Goliath”. I called the Seller and asked if I could go see him. The Seller said, “sure, come on over, as he is in our backyard.” “Great,” I said, “I will be there this afternoon,” and off I then went.

I was so excited to be going to get my first school horse! I arrived at the house and there he was tied to a chain-link dog kennel. He was tethered on a long rope grazing away so I walked up to him and looked him over. He was fat and a bit scruffy, but that’s okay I thought, he can be cleaned up. He had a long mane and his forelock covered his eyes; he was really cute. I could just picture the pretty pink and blue bows in his mane. I told the Seller what my requirements were and he reassured me that his little pony would be perfect.

Rule #1 – Don’t go by what others say, find out for yourself.

Rule #2 – Make sure that you have a trial period of a minimum of two weeks before purchasing.

So the next day Goliath came to our farm. I checked him out and to my surprise he was much scruffier than I remembered and infested with ticks. I lead the pony to the wash stall, turned on the hose, and to my surprise the pony reared up to make a run for it. It took about an hour to wash him as he galloped all around me. Meanwhile, my thoughts were that’s “okay” he’s still a bit unnerved from leaving his little back yard and the chain-linked dog kennel. Now the task of removing all those ticks. I carefully removed around 500 ticks from this little guy and when I was done I lead him to the back of the barn to graze in the sun. As we were standing there I began telling him how wonderful his life was now going to be. I was petting his wet, nappy fur and describing all the love and attention and good care he was now going to get, when WHAM two little back hoofs hit me square in the stomach. I quietly caught my breath, lead him back to his stall, and called the Sellers. Time for them to come on back and pick up their pony.

There had been hints that this pony was completely wrong throughout this entire process, but instead of looking for the traits of tolerance, kindness and a bit numbness, I was completely caught up with cuteness, and I never really looked at what was in front of me or behind this little pony.

So Rule #3 – Do not take my previous advice of going with your gut as literally as I did.

Before the pony left our farm, I gave the Sellers a little lecture and a bottle of my own Tick and Fly Spray to spray him every night while he grazes in the back yard next to his chain linked dog kennel. May Goliath live happily ever after right next to his chain linked dog kennel.

From this adventure, what you should take is to stay in the here and now. If the horse you are considering is giving you red flags or you just don’t have a good feeling about what you are seeing, trust your gut, and walk away.

Next, understand that the great school horses are molded by the children and the farm on which they are kept. They truly do love their job and want to please. They enjoy the attention of the children, the little voices around them, and the steadiness of their life. Observe how the horse reacts to the excitement of the children. Is he/she hesitant or curious with all the attention? After my excitement described above, I found two wonderful school horses and I stopped daydreaming and opened my eyes to what I was truly seeing. It took time, but we are there now.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pony Time program or other horse training programs, please contact our main office at (919) 851-6237. You can also learn more about us at www.whisperinghopestables.com, follow us on our Facebook page “Whispering Hope Stables” or on Twitter @WHS5237.

Written by: Dawson Kingsley
Head Trainer – Hunter Jumper
Whispering Hope Stables

Dawson started her career as a junior rider in Darien, Ct where she rode and showed at NCMT. From there, she went on to train with Rory Scallon at Millbrook Equestrian Center in Millbrook, NY where as a working student she rode and trained young horses and showed in the local eventing circuit. When Dawson’s working student training was completed, she was hired by Joanne Kovacs and John Williams at Show Horses Inc in Darien Ct, where she worked and rode for one of the top Grand Prix riders on the Triple A circuit. Wanting to pursue a career in training, she then went on to teach at Moss Creek Stables in Hilton Head Island with Rory Scallon. She taught beginners to advance riders in hunt seat equitation. Dawson is married to Chris Kingsley and has a little girl, Grace, who is 3 years old and loves ponies. When Dawson is not teaching, she loves being with her family, gardening, and painting.